Officials in the village of Saltaire on Fire Island, N.Y., are trying to take Whitney’s Saltaire Market grocery using eminent domain so they can build a municipality-owned market, the New York Post reported.
And in an attempt to get their hands on the 88-year-old’s property, which was damaged in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, village officials may try to raise the $2.5 million needed to buy and refurbish his grocery store by increasing the area’s property taxes.
Whitney said he has means and the money to fix the damaged store, which he has owned and operated for 25 years, but he said Saltaire officials are preventing him from repairing his property.
“Our choice was to rebuild,” Whitney said in a video his family put together in an attempt to draw attention to his situation. “It’s not fair. What they did is not fair.”
The village’s board of trustees voted Aug. 31 to pursue an eminent domain proceeding against Whitney’s property, leaving some scratching their heads over the ordeal.
“There is almost nobody I have spoken to in the town that supports this eminent-domain action,” David Fisher told the Post.
It’s “disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” Kathleen Butle added.
In a statement, the village said it has “been trying, without success, to engage the Whitneys in substantive discussions” about renovating for the past year.
“[A]t various times they have clearly stated their inability or unwillingness to undertake the renovation requirement and despite statements to the contrary, no building plans or architectural drawings of any kind have ever been presented to the village for review,” it said.
But here’s where the story becomes particularly frustrating for Whitney: Four engineers, including two commissioned by the village, reviewed the storm damage on the market and ruled that it was not “substantial,” the store owner’s son, Scott, said.
“The repairs that are required due to the flooding . . . do not appear to me to be substantial improvements as defined in the building code,” one of the village-commissioned reports reads.
Nevertheless, despite the findings in the reports, village officials continue to argue that the damage is too much for Whitney to handle. Officials also said the veteran’s submitted plans for repairs are insufficient or incomplete.
The village applied Aug. 12 for a $1.5 million New York state waterfront-improvement grant to acquire Whitney’s property, the Post reported. The New York State Department of State denied the village’s request this month.
Perhaps in anticipation of this ruling, village trustees voted three weeks after submitting the application to pursue eminent domain against Whitney.
Here’s a video of Frank Whitney recalling his years in the United States Air Force during WWII:
Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox III said that if the village’s condemnation moves forward, “it would be paid for by raising village taxes, floating a bond or selling off village property,” the Post reported.
The fight between Whitney and village officials continues to this day in the Appellate Division in Brooklyn.
“We continue to be hopeful that the matter can be resolved by the Whitney family agreeing to undertake the required repairs,” Cox told TheBlaze in an email, directing all inquiries to a morethorough explanation of the situation.
The Whitney family did not respond immediately to TheBlaze’s request for comment.